Liverpool host Roma on Tuesday night in the first leg of their titanic Champions League semifinal tie. Liverpool go into the fixture as a heavy favourite after dispatching Manchester City in the quarterfinals. However, the Reds must avoid a repeat of their Europa League 2016 final performance, if they are to advance to the Champions League final in May.
There are several similarities to Liverpool’s semifinal tie against Roma and the Europa League final in 2016. When the Champions League semifinal draw was made, Liverpool supporters from around the globe were pleased to have drawn the Italians rather than Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.
At the same time, Roma’s supporters were also happy to draw Liverpool. Both sets of fans saw the other side as the easiest team to beat in the last four. However, neither club will be easy to knockout at this point in the competition.
Europa League final flashback
Liverpool’s Europa League 2016 final loss came after a large number of supporters saw the match as a formality. Sevilla had played poorly during the second half of the La Liga season as the team finished seventh.
On the way to the Europa League final, Sevilla won just once in their last nine games, and their poor league form disguised the fact that the team was much better than it was playing.
Sevilla had long given up any interest in La Liga during the tail end of the 2015-16 season. The Spanish team had put all its eggs into the Europa League basket. It was a stark contrast to Liverpool’s Premier League season. Jurgen Klopp had taken over Liverpool in October and supporters had high hopes the German could deliver a trophy in his first season.
While Sevilla had won just once in their last nine, Liverpool had lost just once in their last nine. The Reds continued to play hard in both the league and cup as they finished eighth in the Premier League.
Are Roma this season’s Sevilla?
Roma and Sevilla’s similarities are more than just on the pitch. The man who assembled Sevilla’s Europa League successes is the man behind the scenes at Roma. Monchi joined Roma last summer and quickly began putting a Sevilla-like side together.
Roma are currently third in Serie A, but could drop to fifth by season’s end depending on domestic results. The Romans have been out of the running for a Scudetto for some time, and like Sevilla two years ago, have looked content with their league position and a run at a European trophy.
Monchi may have sold one of Roma’s best players to Liverpool in the summer – Mohamed Salah – but in the Egyptian’s place came quality players that Roma needed. Monchi’s biggest task was to keep Roma competitive, which they have been. However, the biggest difference between this season and last is Roma’s focus. Monchi and the club have prioritised the Champions League.
Roma’s dramatic comeback against Barcelona in the quarterfinals disguises the fact that the Italians were the better team in both matches.
In 2016-17, Roma’s Champions League campaign was ended before it started. The Giallorossi lost to Porto in the playoff round in embarrassing fashion. Monchi has masterminded putting squads together that can win cup tournaments, and Roma are now just like those successful Sevilla teams that won three Europa Leagues in a row.
Liverpool are on the verge of making the Champions League final, but Roma won’t go easily. Just as the Giallorossi has to deal with Liverpool’s front three, Roma will have their own trident of goal scorers. Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti have been stellar this term.
However, it could be Roma’s 20-year-old Turkish international Cengiz Under that steals the show in the semifinal. Under signed in the summer of 2017 from Istanbul Basaksehir. Scouted and signed while others were oblivious to his talent, Under has excelled at the Stadio Olimpico since January.
Tuesday night’s tie with Roma is not straight forward, nor is it going to be simple. Liverpool will have their hands full from the kickoff and the Reds must do everything to avoid a repeat of the Europa League 2016 final.